Not Mid Morning Matters

JD in the Morning, off air…

Experts; aren’t we all?

What makes Doctors think they are special, “so very special” that they don’t have to work 7 days a week like many of us? Actually, in reality, Doctors do already work 7 days a week on rota but they currently get more money for weekends than what’s being offered in their new, soon to be imposed contract. How you side in this Junior Doctor’s dispute, be it the emotive BMA “patient safety” or the Government “manifesto commitment to a 7 day NHS” against the constant “crisis” backdrop the NHS is always in, the whole thing is all about money.

Back to the initial question. What makes Doctors think they are special? Is it the commitment to be a doctor that starts in their early teens when they select their GCSE’s? Is it the vision, commitment and passion to select and get the right A Levels and grades to match? It could be the 4/5 years at Medical School followed by a decade or more of training, exams, more training and more exams? Maybe it is the constant changing of jobs and hospitals to gain vital experience, which could also mean travelling 100’s of miles a day, including at weekends? Perhaps it’s the failed relationships and missed family moments as being a doctor is all-consuming? Hard to know really what makes a Doctor special but in a world of Google and Social Media, where we can diagnose ourselves without having to do any of the above, what’s the point of all that effort and commitment? Doctors aren’t special. We don’t need experts.

During the now widely discredited Referendum Campaign (discredited on both sides in a report by the Electoral Reform Society published this last week) one of the most revealing moments was when Leave campaigner Michael Gove (remember him) said “I think people in this country have had enough of experts”. Experts had been telling us what might happen if we chose to Leave or Remain in the EU. It is fair to say that following the result to leave on 24th June all of the doom predicted by those experts has not happened, so far. In fact, after the initial shock, the UK economy has returned to pretty much where it was when the (then) Prime Minister David Cameron (remember him) called The In/Out Referendum in February this year. It’s been a very long 7 months.

Is Michael Gove right in his assertion that we don’t need experts? Is our existential age a time of instant information and connectivity to anything, everything and everyone making us all instant experts? We can now have hundreds of “friends”, we crave “likes” and most of us have more “followers” than Jesus could manage when he was “alive”. Does this means we don’t need real experts, doctors, elected politicians, public servants, journalists, newspapers, radio, TV because we can all get what we want when we want it, all at a click or swipe or scroll? The internet has democratized information and for those who wisely choose to go beyond one single source of information or a single “trusted” news site we can be better informed. You can check and cross reference anything.

Yet there is a problem with all this. If we don’t like what we see, read or hear we can trash it, troll it, attack it and get our “friends” and “followers” to pile in too. We don’t need experts. Your opinion is not mine. Your politics is not mine. Your race is not mine. Attack. We live in the moment were we can easily be extreme and many relish this. We are entitled to do so. We are entitled. Nobody is worth more money than me. Nobody. Social Media is allows us to be everything including judge, jury and expert.

Starting with newspapers many centuries ago, for almost the last hundred years radio followed by TV was all we had. This so-called traditional media is now changing fast to adapt to the social media world and rightly too. As this old media tries to marry with the new maybe the new needs to respect the old a little bit more than it currently does. Our rush toward Social Media is not taking account of the long path it took to get to this point. It took hundreds of years from the first printing press to create the first mass-produced published book. Facebook is just 12 and half years old. Would you just trust a 12-year-old with your life, business and future? We need to respect what was and how it came to be more than we currently doing or we risk losing the bath water, baby and the bath.

This is the case with junior Doctors too. We need to respect what happened in the past. This past and path gave us the Consultant Medics and Surgeons we rely on today and will have to rely on even more with the coming strikes. Both sides in the Junior Doctors dispute would do well to remember this and would do better to talk less and listen more. Doctors know better than most the power of listening. It saves lives. Taking a “history” is vital to diagnose and treat anyone. We need to respect our past, our experiences and do a little less existential scrolling, clicking, swiping and living. Doctors are special and we do need experts.

Camping should be left to Larry Grayson or John Inman

The last time I went properly camping was in 1985, in Scotland. I was a CCF Staff Sargent leading a troop of men on exercise. This makes it all sound rather though, windswept, brave and fearless but it was essentially a school thing. We were staying in an army barracks for a week with a three-day trek under canvas. The tents, equipment and food were all left over from the Second World War and, although it was sunny and hot, it was still camping. It came complete with all the smells and total lack of facilities that goes with the life of tenting. Yes, you may get to see the stars at night against a clear sky but that’s not really much consolation when you’re digging your own latrine.

Some thirty-one years on much has changed. Six Prime Ministers, four governments, three major conflicts, the advent of mobile phones, digital data, social media, the UK leaving the EU yet there are still many constants to tenting and, it seems, to those who enjoy it. A certain type of person loves camping and I am not one of them. No sane adult possible can.

Caravaning is, of course, something quite else. Not only is it an annoyance to anyone who lives close to or has to use the M5 from Easter until November, they have a club. This can only be where they probably share stories of hogging the middle lane, the best places to empty their chemical toilets and where the press button for the shower in the show block stays in for “just that little bit longer”. If you have a caravan it seems you don’t want to use the equipment it comes with for some unknown reason. If Theresa May really wants to go to the country early, say this Autumn, circumventing the Fix Term Parliament Act of 2010, then a vote winner for me would be ‘caravans can only travel on the UK’s motorway network between 11pm and 6am. This would be a sound policy for a less congested Britain.

Children love camping and it is easy to see why as a parent. All the things you want them to do in the real, normal world like wash, brush their teeth or behave goes out of the window (or tent flap) when you take children camping. You can’t make them do any of these things and many other real world things when it takes twice as long, requires the constant emptying of a chemical toilet or a long trip to the toilet block or the shower block.

Camp toilet blocks shower blocks. These are something else that has not changed in over thirty years. Not since I left school have I smelt those smell or heard those sounds. A thin Formica clad door slamming shut complete with that grind of a sliding plastic latch closing. And then there is that smell combined with a disguising “whistle”. One must always remember to have checked that there is sufficient paper.

One evening, while I washing up in the washing up block (bring your own plug), which was attached to the toilet block (this was a twice daily trek to avoid filling the chemical toilet cassette “unnecessarily”) there were two other men going through the same motions and emotions. One man told the other that he always went camping, ever year, and that he and his family loved the freedom. This was their first time abroad. In a tent. The other recounted how he had to get a new tent this year as his previous tenting habitat had “perished” over the winter. He went on, with huge pride, about how it only took a couple of hours to put up his new tent where he and his four children were “happily” staying. A couple of hours! Four children?! When you go on holiday you don’t normally have to build the hotel room you’re staying in or share it with five others, even if they are your nearest and dearest. There is also a sound principle when you do go on holiday. It should be somewhere better, more comfortable and possibly a tad more luxurious than where you live for the other fifty weeks of the year.

There is, however, one singular, huge plus to camping if you are a parent. You get to spend real-time, proper time with your children when they are young and still want to spend real-time with you. This is truly precious and beyond compare. Quite why you would go camping or caravaning otherwise, as a couple, is beyond me. Maybe it is so you can sit in stony silence under canvass or in a tin box on wheels dreading when it is your turn to empty the chemical toilet.

The Papers and Politics: If in doubt, make it up.

It is only when you look back you realise that things are not what they first appeared or how they were actually sold. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. If we learn nothing more from the last four weeks and the febrile previous months before the 23rd June 2016 it must be this. What any public figure says or is what written in our newspapers needs to be checked, at east twice and only then can you know it might be, could possibly be true. I wrote about this last year when my daughter had just died. And it has happened again to me with the news (is it actually ‘news’?) that I have split up with my fiancé. Grief is an unrelenting bastard.

The factual failures (again) of the Bristol Post, The Times, The Daily Express and The Daily Mail are in black and white for anyone to read and again the newspapers don’t care. You should care. You must care. Information does not come from one source. There isn’t only one book to believe. As a journalist you’re told should double source (at the very least) the facts of any story. If you can’t do this then you just don’t publish. Names, ages, time lines (all of which the Daily Mail and the Bristol Post could not have got more wrong if they had actively tried) are facts that can be easily checked. Then it’s down to you, as the reader, to check them again by reading, listening or watching another source. There really is no such thing as face value. Don’t read one newspaper and don’t believe one book. That is nothing but naivety.

The campaign surrounding the EU and Brexit was riddled with lies, half-truths and counter lies. Many of the wild claims made were, at best, beneath those who made them. The competing sides played on our naivety about EU, Europe and on our prejudices. From the black top tabloid papers to the extremes of both sides of the campaigns, the absolute nonsense and falsehoods that were trotted out as “truth” mean many who voted one way feel robbed and cheated of their vote and its result. Is it a surprise that by changing our relationship with the rest of the world, which we related to via the EU, it will cause problems for years? Did you think that the promises made about staying or leaving the EU, made as facts, were in reality nothing more that snake oil sales lines? Did you check them?

Despite the many falsehoods of the campaign the turnout for this historic vote was the largest since the 1992 General election. 52% voted leave, 48% voted remain and we must respect this democratic result. To campaign to have another vote because we don’t like the result is just silly. That would be like Germany campaigning to have another world cup final, as they didn’t like the result of July 1966. It is nonsense to have another referendum.

Maybe some of those who are calling for another referendum should have taken their actual vote in the last referendum more seriously. Maybe they should have all voted on the question being asked, having checked and researched the arguments being made by both sides? That hard-won X was not a protest against the government of the day or thinking it will get rid of immigrants from tomorrow or whatever other silly notion attached to the referendum question. If you are one of those who voted for anything other than then arguments behind the question and are thinking ‘’what have I done’’ then lets hope the next time you vote you will think long and hard about where your X marks the spot.

Now our leaders and politicians need to get on with it and stop asking us what they should do all the time. Why do they do this? To empower us? To blame us as it’s what we said we wanted? To abdicate the responsibility to us for their failures in leadership? Maybe we are just electing the wrong types of leaders and politicians. One thing is for certain. We are in serious times and while we deal with the result of the self-indulgence of our referendum the world is in a perilous state. The world is killing, creating hatred and division while we deal with this and years of self-inflicted uncertainty.

Again, whether you were an “Inner” or an “Outer” the result is the result. If you feel cheated or robbed then, maybe, you should have asked more questions, read more than one newspaper, listen to more than one politician. Maybe you should have thought more about your family and friends before you voted? Maybe the result of this referendum is the result of self in a the world of social media, which is all about self. Maybe that is the thing that needs to change most.

It’s up to EU

So the saying goes, if you can’t explain it clearly to a 5-year-old then you really don’t understand it yourself. Apply this to the E.U and find yourself a 5-year-old to test the theory. I would be interested to speak to you and the 5-year-old after your explanation to see how you both got on. If only our political class had tried this before they embarked on their ”Leave” or ”Remain” campaigns as the last few months has been little more than claims and counter claims. These have now mostly been discredited as part truths at best or lies at worst. The truth is and the facts are that they don’t and can’t know. The painful reality of the 23rd June and our pending referendum is that it is change we are voting for, regardless, and to make it in/out or status quo/unknown is naive. The biggest question of all is why are we having this referendum in the first place.

So far the campaigns might as well have been saying that each of us will get our own Unicorn and money tree if we stay in the EU but our ears will fall off and our kitchen taps will all leak if we leave EU, or visa versa. Most of the claims on what The EU costs or doesn’t, what the EU does or doesn’t do or what the EU will be or not be in the future have been rightly pulled apart (in part) by the opposition but they never let facts or the truth temper their best interest not their possible raw political gain. The sign written Out Battle Bus is a prime example of a ”fact” that is just not true.

So what can we do before we make the most important political and social decision of our lives and of our generation? Firstly, ask yourself how the EU affects you directly or indirectly? This is a tough question. It’s hard to know but think about the hours you work and the hours others work to support you. Those hours along with maternity and paternity pay, sickness and holiday pay are all down to the EU. As are European mobile phone charges, migration, free trade, product safety standards, VAT setting, tax on tampons, education, nursing staff, doctors training and food quality. Check the facts on those and then you can make an informed decision for you and yours.

Heaven help us if we make the most important democratic decision of our lives solely on migration and immigration. We can not go back fifty years to a time of Police Officers with whistles and no radios, when you mostly likely would have lived, worked and shopped in your town and your world was a much smaller place. That is not today and we can’t go back to that unenlightened time even if we really wanted to. Now is not a time to be romantic or nostalgic nor is it a time to rely on all those who we elected last year and this year. They have too much to gain or lose politically from this vote and they are hardly likely to tell you the whole truth now so close to the actual vote.

There will be two debates that I will be moderating in my BBC Radio Bristol day job during June and my plan for both these debates is simple. Get answers to questions that are truthful and factual. Only when the head and mind is informed can the heart be allowed to guide. The 23rd June has to be a head lead decision not an emotional response to ‘Johnny Foreigner’ coming over here and doing what ever. If the EU and its solution really were as simple as our black top tabloid newspapers sell it there would be no need for a debate at all.

One last thing. We all need to learn the very important difference between migration (a net figure in the last year of 184,000 to the UK from within the EU), immigration (a net figure of 186,000 people to the UK from outside the EU) and refugee, who is someone who has no choice other than leave their home or be killed.

One last question. Why has every British Prime Minister been pro the EU with the majority of Treaties sign by Conservative Prime Ministers?

And for the record I am undecided.

For Facts Sake!

In or out it has certainly been shaken about and what ever happens the day after 23rd of June, Europe will never be the same again. This is not a vote for change or status quo (although their brand of four cord rock is very popular) it is a vote for change or change. Before “that” referendum you have the local elections on 5th May and even if you council is not up for X marks the spot this year, you will still have a Police and Crime Commissioner to vote for. Yes you do. Unfortunately it’s not like the one from Batman with a loveable Irish side kick and a red phone under a transparent cake cover, our Police and Crime Commissioners hold our police to account and set the crime plan to help us feel safe and be safe. Now you know. Do you know who is standing? You should.

So it is pencils to the ready and let’s wait to see who comes knocking our doors wearing a rosette looking to “count on our vote”. You might have a long wait. It’s just not like it use to be in delivery of politics or its outcome. The delivery seems to be more about reassuring the core voter that they are right to back you message (much like most newspapers assure their readers that they have bought the right paper and here is why we are as one by not letting the facts get in the way) or it is about bombarding “the undecided” with a material ranging from simple policy headings to good old-fashioned fear. Project fear.

And here is the real fear. Turnout. Look at the recent turn out for national and local elections. In 2015 the General Election turnout was 66.1% and the best we have managed on one of those since the Second World War was in 1950 at 83.9%. Still, could be worse. In 2001 it was 59.4%. At best nationally a third of the country can’t be bothered to vote. In the European elections of 2014 the turnout was 35.6%, the high point was 2004 when 38.52% of us voted and the lowest was in 1999 when just 24% bothered to play X marks the E.U spot. Our local elections are even worse when these determine our day-to-day governance and management! 2012 saw Bristol make a huge change to the way it was run to being governed by an elected mayor. This massive change to how the residents council tax was spent was decided by just 28% of registered voters. Some Wards didn’t get above 20%. 260,000 people either didn’t care or didn’t understand. This is what we proudly call democracy and this is what we hold as a standard against other countries in our foreign policy and its advocacy.

What can be done? Legislate to make us all vote, have a none of the above box, use the same technology behind Bitcoin to offer secure on-line voting? MAybe we could turn it into an X Factor or The Voice type thingie where Dermot O’Leary has all the contestants, err politicians on a Saturday night TV show standing in a row, complete with tension building, drum beating music and a long pregnant pause before announcing the winner? All of these have been considered.

Surely it is actually down to us. If we can’t be bothered to vote then why should our political class be bothered by us. If our political class seemingly can’t be bothered then why should we. It is down to us to change it. It is our vote not theirs.

Democracy is about the people, about and for us. We need and must be involved, to turn up, to seek out the information and ideas that best suit us and our loved ones and then vote for them. We need to read, listen, ask, check and qualify then turn up to vote as it is our tax that pays for it and our tax that the elected spend on everything. “Taxes are price we pay for civilisation” wrote Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr the noted US Supreme Court Judge. Our voting determines how we want our civilisation to be, whether it is for our local councillors or our place in Europe. So maybe it is worth a few minutes of our time to research, discuss and actually vote, stating on 5th May. It’s always much more fun when you take part rather than moaning from the sidelines.

Decisions, decisions

Life can be seen as series of choices, right and wrong turns, decisions. We, as a nation, face a few in the coming weeks and months. Like all choices, turns or decisions they will have consequences and outcomes that we can never fully predict. Change is good thing and it is, mostly, a positive part of life. To not embrace change is to not embrace all life is or can be. Change is possibility realised.

It’s been a while since my last blog, before Christmas last year, and much has changed. And yet much more remains the same, constant, continues. Living with the loss of a child is dreadful. It’s not in the natural order of life. Having lost a parent, close family and friends both older and younger than me, this particular loss is consuming. At times it is all-consuming. Yet from this you have to change, evolve, make new turns and make decisions to combat it, to try to ride it or it will beat you.

This week I made the decision to take two days off work. I was tired, my mind is not as sharp as I want or need it to be (and has been this way for some time now) plus I could feel the hands of depression on my shoulders. I recognise these hands from times past and I am scared, truly scared of them grabbing me again. Work, my role, what I do with and for the BBC is a privilege and it has been my anchor since Polly was killed. For a few hours each day I can take myself out of my own porous wallow and help others, maybe. My fear of taking time off was that I would end up in my wallow with no escape. I was right. Yet I have made a couple of decisions to try to turn my one life around.

Firstly I have begun counselling. My fear of this was that I would end up popping the lid off the container of my life and may not be able to get it back on again. I liken it to a forgotten Tupperware container of leftovers at the back of the fridge that you should never pop the lid off to smell the contents, you should just throw it away, both container and contents. Well my lid is off and I shall see (and feel) what comes next. The hardest thing of all in counselling for me is answering questions, not asking them, and my not trying to control the conversation to arrive at the story’s denouement. I have no idea how this story will end and that is both frightening and comforting at the same time.

Secondly I have joined a gym. I don’t like gyms. They are not my tribe. Why would you run on a machine and not get anywhere? I needed to exercise though, lose a stone and paying to be a member of a gym means I have to actually go or I will fall into what gyms really want from their members, which is their money but not their attendance. I have often wondered what would happen to a gym is every member turned up at once? A week in and having been four times, including a great session of boxing, I can say that it is having a positive effect on me. I have only joined for three months so being a member of a gym has a beginning, a middle and an end.

And this is my biggest challenge.

Memberships, life, relationships, work, love all have a beginning, a middle and an end. The reality is that most of the time we don’t know where we are along this trio of progress and reality. Ends can happen unexpectedly. Sometimes you can see them coming and sometimes you can even avoid facing them. Sometimes you can even pro-activate them, such as our EU ‘in or out’ choice we all face on the 23rd June. But an end, any end is never as simple as that. Never.

The only thing we can all do is to try to make informed choices, to decide based on what we know and try to realise what we don’t. To blindly follow others, to make choices just based the past, on others or plain ‘leadership’ is both foolish and naive. Others choices are not our choices. You own your decisions and choices much like you own your vote.

My aspiration this year is to have the dullest year possible, to react rather than pro act (not ever my natural state) and this proving harder than I thought. I have some big decisions coming over the hill that may surprise me and others in their outcomes. One thing I have certainly learnt since my daughter’s death is that change comes in many guises. It is what you do when change comes that makes the next moment, the unknown, both challenging and revealing.

Here’s to the next choice, turn, decision and revelation.

The dash to beat Daesh

Its been quite a week. The talk of war and then a notional declaration of war, but the reality is somewhat different. The fact that the UK, along with other international partners, has been bombing ‘so called’ Islamic State/ISAL/IS/Daesh in Northern Iraq for over a year and is now doing the same in Northern Syria should come as no surprise to us or them. It is exactly what they wanted and we have given it to them. David Cameron has delivered a victory to Daesh.

From the foundation of Islam, the Crusades, the rise of Wahhabism in the 18th Century, the rise and fall of the Ottoman Empire, Sykes-Picot in 1916, the rise of House of Saud and foundation of the Islamic State of Saudi Arabia in the 1932 all combined with our various 20th and 21st Century attempts to ‘deal with the Middle East’ the west has never got it right. Now we are facing all those failures and potentially creating more. We have more often than not backed the wrong camel.

Daesh want war. They crave it. They need it. It is what they are all about. Without war they are nothing, where as we are if we choose not to fight. Europe has seen relative peace in the last 70 years, with the notable exception of the Balkans and Bosnia. There we got it wrong before we got it right. Know thine enemy and this is where we are failing again. Pacifism is no the answer either. It might be wonderful and Christian to turn the other cheek but sometimes you must use all four cheeks, face thine enemy and fight.

So what do Daesh want? Simply, they want to harm us, kill us, destroy us and they want to impose their own twisted version of Islam on the world. This version of Islam was born in what is now Saudi Arabia in the mid 1700’s as a fundamentalist branch of Sunni Islam. It is used by the House of Saud to run their country and, by default, run the world’s oil. The problem is that Saudi Arabia don’t run world oil any more and the low oil prices OPEC that Saudi Arabia are trying to use to destroy the USA’s fracking industry (America is all be self-sufficient in energy now thanks to fracking) by making Arabian oil cheaper than U.S produced oil is not working for them. A war suits Saudi Arabia now. If they are really worried about Daesh why aren’t Saudi Arabia using all those lovely planes, bombs and missiles we’ve sold them on Daesh? That is the biggest unanswered question. But lets be clear; Saudi Arabia is an Islamic State and there is nothing ‘so called’ about it. Amnesty International estimated last month that the Saudis had executed 151 people so far this year.

The West getting involved in the Middle East is never going to work any more than Jeremy Corbyn’s political settlement mantra. Daesh are not going to sit around a table and talk to any political conclusion but if Corbyn wants to try let him go there. It maybe prudent not to waste the money on a return fare.

The solution, if there can be such a thing with over a thousand years of none, must come politically and military from those Arab, Islamic countries along with our very distant support. It is for Saudi Arabia and Iran (and they are far from friends) to lead the charge to take on Daesh. If we continue on the path started this week it will be our war with a very long future and an uncertain outcome. To solve the Middle East it must be of their doing.

I am ashamed to call myself a Journalist

On Saturday 31st October, at 1.30am, my 22-year-old eldest daughter Polly was killed when she lost control of the car she was driving and hit a tree. She was alone in her VW Beetle, no one else was hurt and, I am told, it was instant.

I can tell you that having lost my father as a child, other close family members along the timeline of life and having said many times ‘on air’ that losing a child must be the worst thing of all, it is. It really is. It’s not a grief ‘competition’ it just is. Losing a child is the worst thing of all.

Polly’s mother Sarah and her dad Simon, who brought Polly up from the age of 3 and did such a brilliant job, are broken by this, as are all our families. My eldest son, Polly’s brother Oliver, is broken too but one of the few comforts I am taking at the moment is what a fine, brave, courageous man he has become. Again his mother Sarah and dad Simon deserve all the credit.

It is Simon, Polly’s dad, who has prompted me to write this blog. I am Polly and Oliver’s father, Simon is their dad. That is always the language we use, though Ollie and Polly always call me dad when we are together. Language is vital if we are to understand who we are and what we do.

The news of my daughter’s death, because of the nature of the work I used to do (I know I will never be the same again) and who I am engaged to means that there is some media interest in me with the local and national newspapers and TV. Those who know me well will know that I never, ever wanted to be the story, just to tell or share the story, as a journalist, correctly. I have never wanted to be on TV, I don’t want to be known, perhaps just be known of, to do my job well and to help people if I can and to get to the truth for others.

As all the family came together on Monday morning to start the process of making arrangements for Polly, I was contacted by the BBC for a quote about her. There has been quite a reaction to the news, because of me, with many kind words paid in tribute to my daughter and kindness shown towards me from those who listen and maybe even enjoy what I do daily on the radio. I gave the BBC ‘the line’, agreeing it while on the ‘phone to them with Polly’s mother Sarah and Polly’s dad Simon hearing me do this. I wanted the quote, the tribute to come from Sarah, Polly’s mum, who did such a brilliant job in bringing our daughter up with Simon. The name order was also agreed to be ‘Sarah, her husband Simon Bosworth and John Darvall’. I was clear.

On Monday night, on Points West the local BBC News opt for the West, none of this happened in their broadcast about Polly. Simon was called Polly’s ‘stepdad’, a phrase we have NEVER used. Simon, Polly’s dad was straight on the phone to me. He was rightly furious and more. This journalistic failure significantly added to his pain, and to mine. To hear Polly’s dad rage at you about your profession, about the things you have clearly agreed whilst standing in his family home just hours before when our daughter has been killed…words fail me. This poor piece of journalism made Tuesday probably the worst day of this whole episode so far. This includes seeing our dead daughter in a hospital mortuary just 12 hours after she was killed.

Newspapers have contacted me and provided appallingly written articles, which I have had to change, ‘polish’ or make actual sense of. Other papers have published articles using my personal relationship as ‘the in line’, when this is NOT the story but, at best, just a very small part of the story. This has hurt many who are in the throes of grief. Other papers have just published without checking and have got facts wrong. See earlier blogs. One paper spliced a year off my age. I will take that!

The way we all consume news is changing. The way we share news has changed and will continue to change at a faster pace. This week TV and newspapers have proven to me why they are not the future of news. If they can’t even get their facts right, be trusted with clear information and then report it accurately is it any wonder that we are all turning to Facebook, Twitter and other internet sources for our news and information? The internet allows us to come to our own conclusions by checking our own facts. We really can’t trust the traditional outlets to do it right or properly.

I write this as a father who has lost a daughter. I write this as a journalist who loved his work but can now clearly see why so many have lost faith in his profession and traditional media. They, we and I have brought this on ourselves.

I also write this to set the record straight for Polly’s mother Sarah and Polly’s dad Simon. I am ashamed to call myself a journalist and I am truly sorry to have added to your grief. I have spoken to Simon and he knows I have written this.

Two bits of advice for you reading this, if I may:

Trust nothing you read or watch. Check it, at least twice, as it’s more than likely wrong from just a single source.

Love your children and loved ones. Properly love them. Tell them every day, make sure they know that you love them regardless of what might be happening. Nothing is more important than that.

Time to grow up Master W W Web

The internet is a quarter of a century old and has changed our lives in ways few could have imagined, including those who created it. From the desk top to the lap top, from the tablet to the smart phone and Smart TV if it’s not connected and you are not connected then what is the point? None. The next big thing is the ‘Internet Of Things’ and we are all nodding in agreement, hurtling to a brave new digital world. But are were actually understanding it or taking a breath to consider whether we should?

The Internet we know now has gone through many evolutions since the switch was first flicked in 1989. The chirpy chirp of dial-up and websites that took forever to load to the revelation of broadband to the expectations of ‘I want it NOW’ super fast broadband. What next? Wicked Super fast broadband with gold bar and oak leaf cluster? Whatever it will be it will never now be enough and the next change will be but moments away. You will have just got your head around all the latest technology and wallop it is all new, again.

The Internet is truly democratic, as intended from the outset. It’s beyond government control and even those governments that try to control it fail. The Internet and it’s offspring Social Media are also home and voice to the angry, unhinged or obsessed. On line they can be found venting their frustrations, conspiracy theories and hounding their victims. There are those who seek to expose others a la Ashley Madison. The Internet gives form and expression to anyone who wants to use it with very few consequences to the user. The target, on the other hand, can be all but destroyed. Some who have been targeted and trolled on-line have taken their own lives. I’m pretty sure Sir Tim Berners-Lee didn’t envisage that back in 1989 when the World Wide Web began.

The Ashley Madison hack and subsequent ‘data dump’ is a very interesting moment for the web. It’s not that all personal data taken and now available to anyone with a computer. No. This is proof once again how vulnerable we are by putting such personal data on-line in the first place. If you think putting anything on-line is safe then you’re a fool.

Millions use the web for sex and, of course, there is a ‘dark Internet’ because any market place will develop a black market. The big and very real digital problem is our reliance on the web combined with our trusting nature. This hacking event shows us all what will be our undoing. Next time it could be Facebook, Twitter or your bank.

If you want to have an affair, sex or watch some weird stuff on-line then it really is all but a click away. And you’re not alone in doing that either. Some of those clicks are illegal and those who do make them to watch stuff illegally or view stuff that is illegal should face the full force of the law. The rest of us? Maybe we need to think about what we are doing. Would you put up your name, address, email details and pictures of your children in the front window of the house for all the street to see? The internet is way bigger than you front window and you can never take it down.

So how to make the Internet grow up? Simple. Remove the ability to have any fake identity that so many wish to hide behind when on-line. I would admire those who hacked Ashley Madison and what they are trying to achieve if they were actually brave enough to put their real names to their cause. Whatever you may think of the alleged rapist Julian Assange, still hiding out in fear in a London embassy broom cupboard refusing to face justice, at least he has he put his name to his on-line work with Wikileaks. Same can also be said for Edward Snowdon, although I don’t think he’s been a ‘naughty boy’ too, allegedly. You may not agree with what they did but they did put their name to their actions. If you are going to cry freedom and free speech then you have the courage to put your name to it otherwise it’s not free. If you believe it, stand by it with your name.

The simplest way to make the Internet grow up would be to make everyone have a real profile using their real name and details. No more hiding, no more trolling and no more extremism, vile intent and perversion hiding behind a shroud of anonymity, freedoms and, ultimately, sheer bloody cowardice.

‘I think y’know’

The current Labour leadership contest has thrown up many interesting moments not least the man who only just made it to be nominated is, according to those ever reliable polls, leading the field. Those who nominated him weren’t expecting that, only doing so to widen the leadership debate. Now many in Labour are crying foul because Jeremy Corbyn is doing just that. Watching and listening to the Labour leadership debate is both refreshing and 600,000 people getting involved can’t be a bad thing, even if some are making mischief.

Whatever your flavour or colour of politics any government needs a strong opposition. Democracy needs opposition or it doesn’t work and some very bad things start to happen. Look at Syria as a very painful, worrying case in point. The point of opposition is to oppose and give credible, thought out alternatives. As those alternatives are debated it makes the government up its game and we get better governance and a choice, a real and actual choice. We may even get something to believe in too.

What the last election proved was the ‘centre ground’ is not what many want, as to have a centre you need to have two points to know where it actually is. We didn’t have those two real opposing points. As a result other parties flourished although they are now not fairly represented in our first past the post system. Can it be fair that 4 million voted for UKIP and they got one MP and 1.5 million voted for the SNP and they got 56 MPs?

Whoever gets the Labour leadership we all need them to be an effective opposition, to hold the government to account. We need Labour to come up with ideas and policies that inspire, to raise the debate and our interest in politics for all our sakes. But there is a bigger issue.

Our political class, both locally and nationally, seem to lack any real ideas and vision. There are some obvious examples of those who do but the majority don’t, hence the disinterest and our contempt in our leaders and elected representatives. The evidence? Simple. When you hear them speak you will hear two key ‘tells’; ‘I think’ and ‘y’know’, as in ‘i think the NHS needs reform’ or worse ‘y’know, I think the NHS is the best in the world’. If our politicians need to think then they can do it in their offices or one of their many homes. When they talk to us through interviews or through parliamentary debate I want them to know.

I want our politicians to have arrived at some certainty, a clear vision and conviction and not to be still thinking about whatever it is they are talking about. And, y’know, ‘y’know’ is just lazy and shows a lack of clarity too. I don’t know, I’m waiting for you to inform me so I can make my own mind up, so I can decide who or what is best to make the big stuff happen. That is why I have elected you, to do this for me so I can live my life knowing that you know, that you are doing the thinking about it and then when know you tell me. I want to know our elected representatives are certain in their purpose, having informed me at the election their thought out intentions.

Currently our elected representatives keep putting it all back on us, maybe we so we can’t hold them to account for it. That is not part of the deal in a liberal democracy. The rise of the consultation is the weak answer to a lack of certain vision. It’s crept in from weak management and leadership in business. It’s the ‘I don’t know despite being elected/paid the big bucks/being somehow put in charge, so I will put it back to you, and then when it goes wrong it’s your fault not mine’ mentality of our decade.

Leaders lead, they tell us their already thought out vision and then do it, with our democratic support. Leaders don’t expect us to know ‘y’know’ because if we did know then we wouldn’t need them.

In the next few months we can only hope that when the silly season is over, the summer holidays are done and the political pondering is complete we have an effective government and an effective, vibrant opposition. This might get us all involved in the process more as we may have leaders who thoughts lead to conclusions, policies and actions.

You never know, y’know.

The Chilli Challenge for M.E

I have done the #chillichallenge for ME. Ouch. Now you do it. John   

Doctor, Doctor give me the news 24/7

This week the Government made it clear that it wants a 7 day a week health service because it will give us the patients access to healthcare, at its best, 7 days a week. Why? We are more likely to die at the weekend, which ‘statistics’ say will happen, because there aren’t enough doctors on the wards. Apparently the worst day to be admitted to hospital is Sunday. Imagine ending up in hospital on the ‘day of rest’ and finding a notice on the door saying closed until 8am Monday morning.

The stupidity of thinking that a doctor, any doctor, can cure you on his or her own is beyond belief so the idea of stuffing hospitals with Consultants together with ‘junior doctors’ who include Registrars and F2’s and F1’s is potty. Consultant Medics or Surgeons are not gods, although some believe they are. They are part of a team and the head of that team. The collective experience and wisdom of that team is the key to your successful treatment. If the Consultant is there along with their full team every day then this will impact on the following. Training, development and the numbers of doctors actually available every day of the week. This will impact on patient care. So the answer is we need more doctors, 10,000 of them.

It takes at least 10 years to become a Consultant in the NHS. You can’t fast track being a surgeon or a medic. If you think you can then you or your loved ones can get treated by that fast tracked doctor. I will always go for the one who has a breadth of experience.

My ex-wife is a Consultant Surgeon, a published, peer-reviewed author and award-winning in her chosen specialty. She is, frankly, amazing but achieving all this has consumed her. It is only our two children that she has time for outside of medicine. Nothing else. It has taken her 15 years to get there and she has sacrificed much to do so. So have her colleagues. She already works weekends, every 6th weekend on call, day and night. I know what this means because I look after our children when she is on call. It does involve a ward round Saturday and Sunday, then staying in the hospital or going back to the hospital at ANY time day or night to do what she has trained for and has the extensive experience to do. Her colleagues also do this for the other five weekends. Her hospital is just like every other hospital in the UK at the weekend. It is full of highly qualified doctors.

To have a full 7 day NHS you also need theatre nurses, lab assistants, receptionists, porters, clinical support staff, administration staff, managers, district nurses, mental health services, public health departments at councils and more ALL to work 7 days a week. You will also buses, park and rides, trains, shops, schools, all to be properly 24/7 so Monday is no different from Sunday. If we all don’t recognise that Sunday is not Monday, why have it? If you really want health care to be 24/7 then we and it all has to be the same 24/7. Simply this means more doctors and more bus drivers too.

If 24/7 healthcare were as simple as just making Consultants work a full Saturday and Sunday they would already be doing it. And they already are.

I have one last question that government has yet to successfully answered. This may well be the starting point to all of this call for 24/7 healthcare. If you are prepared to sit in an Accident and Emergency department for 4 hours or more, just how bad is your accident or emergency?

What M.E? An update

Since Naomi and her family shared her story and her video together with the publishing of my blog on ME I have been astounded by the response. And shocked. And heartbroken. I have also learned that a very good friend of mine also lives with a mild form of ME and I’ve known them for 10 years. That is two people close to me who have ME. Coincidence or a painful reality? Why didn’t I know? How many more?

If you can take the time to read some of the comments to my original blog you may feel the same too. What has become clear to me is there is a whole world, more than just the potentially under estimate of 250,000 people in the UK, living with ME. Some of the comments and stories shared are uplifting, others may make you cry. The biggest issue is ignorance and belief in ME, and I include myself in this. To those who have criticised my blog thank you as you are right. I have a lot to learn. 

As a journalist, having talked, seen and listened to those with ME, I will do more to learn, educate and explore what can be done. In the coming weeks on the BBC radio programme I am privileged to do you will hear from those raising money to help diagnose, treat and maybe even cure ME. You will also hear from more from those who live with ME and from experts in pain management, where I hope they will take calls from anyone listening. I will let you know when all this is happening.

If there is something, anything else you feel I can do then post it on here. All ideas and insights will be considered by me and my very small but brilliant programme production team.

Thank you for sharing your stories and I will try to do what I can to raise the profile, expose and tell the story of ME with your help and support. 

What M.E?

In the last few weeks I have seen the best and the worst of what we are capable of. The worst was on a beach in Tunisia and those who died at the trigger of an Islamic Extremist gunman. This is only the beginning of this story from the country that seeded the Arab Spring. Tunisia and Europe will struggle to come to terms with the consequences of summer of 2015 and the biggest problems may have already begun. Any country that relies on tourists spending money for a significant part of its GPD is going to hurt as this cash tap is turned off. The financial pain that Tunisia will feel will be very easily harnessed by those who have no desire to encourage the West back with their flabby white bodies to its turquoise seas and sandy beaches. Maybe this is part of the terrorist plan? As ever social media will have its dark, digital hand in all this.

Yet something else has kept my hope alive and well.

Two weeks ago I went to see a 38 year old woman called Naomi at her home to interview her for my BBC radio programme. I don’t like doing what are known as a ‘pre-rec’ after a three hour live programme. I always feel ‘flat’ and feel I lack the ‘spark’ a live show and red ‘ON Air’ light gives me. After this interview I will never be so pathetic again.

Naomi has lived with M E, Myalgic Encephalopathy, for 25 years of her life. She went from being a bright, vibrant young girl to seriously ill in a matter of weeks. Now Naomi is barley able to get up from her bed for 20 minutes a day because of a virus and how her body reacted to it. When I knocked on the door to interview Naomi I knew little about M E. other than its dodgy reputation and the questions about whether it was actually a real illness. When I left Naomi’s parents home where she lives, having spoken to her, her mother and brother for an hour I cried.

I played the recorded interview out on my radio programme, put the video of Naomi’s story up on social media, lovingly made by her brother Tom, and thought that was it. I was wrong.

I am not a big fan of social media. It seems to be little more than a platform of inanity and fantasy. At it’s worst it is a vehicle of anger, hatred and allows those who delight at taking offense at anything to hide behind their made up names and say hurtful, stupid and ill-informed things without real consequence or responsibility. This is not to be confused with free speech. Free speech is saying what you feel or believe and having the courage to be seen standing up to say it. At its very worst social media is full of narcissists and the delusional with a worrying need ‘followers’ or ‘friends’, a mob of cowardly, unidentifiable cockwombles hiding, carping and hating.

Social media can also be a huge force for good; a force for change and it can give voice to those who don’t have one. Naomi’s story on the radio and  Naomi’s video story has revealed thousands like her who are suffering, thanks to social media.

I never knew how big a problem M E is. It is only through Naomi’s courage in giving what little energy she had in telling her story and allowing me to share her story that others now have a voice too. Thanks to Naomi others can get help and have hope. This includes my own stepsister who I never knew has M E until this week.

I will now do more to help others with this condition. M E is dreadful, debilitating illness that when it takes hold it never lets go. For Naomi, for all those living with chronic pain and M E, I will do more while I can. I will also use social media too because I can finally see what it can do rather than what it seems all too capable of doing now.

Take it home you tosser

In the last month the city of Bristol, European Green Capital 2015, admitted that it collected 18% more rubbish from residents homes in the last year than it did in the previous year. This is the rubbish residents of the city through out every day that doesn’t go in one of three recycling boxes. This is rubbish, in every sense.

The result is the city council has decided to take the refuse collection contract off the current provider, who were clearly struggling to make it work, and are going to now collect the rubbish and recycling ‘in house’. Residents have been told there should be not ‘noticeable’ change to the service when this happens in August and it will all be reviewed after a year. Are you worried about bin day? Let’s just see how it goes. There is one thing we should seriously all be worry about though. Where is all this rubbish coming from that can’t be recycled and where is it all going? A hole in the ground? Packed up in bales and stored on a dock somewhere causing a fly infestation?

Bristol’s excess rubbish is now being processed at a plant in Avonmouth. Cleverly this plant turns our none recyclable rubbish into pellets and these shipped on a slow boat to Sweden to be burnt and turned into energy. Quite why that can’t be done in the UK is confusing but it is probably down to the usual ‘yes we want renewable and sustainable energy, of course we do, its very important to the future of the planet, so long as its not generated anywhere near me’ attitude.

Let’s get back to that increase of the amount of rubbish collected, up by almost a fifth in twelve months. Why so much? The jury is out on this but I have an idea. For one week I put every bit of plastic and every bit of paper that passed though my hands and home into two bin liners. The plastic was mostly unwanted and unnecessary packaging and paper was mostly unsolicited mail and leaflets. In 7 days both bin liners were full of packaging I didn’t want and paper I didn’t ask for. This has to stop and we have the power to stop it.

For the record I am no ‘knit your own underwear, lentil eating, tree hugging’ Green but I am sick of companies and others making me throw away stuff I don’t need and I didn’t ask for. It is this excessive rubbish that is in our control. Maybe its time to leave it all at the shop or send it back to the company or send it back to those who deliver it like Royal Mail with a note saying ‘no thanks, you deal with it, I don’t want it’.

All this rubbish also leads to the litter that is all over our streets. Bristol City Council spends over 5 million pounds a year on clearing litter and chewing gum off the streets. Or, to put it another way, the annual budget for libraries, which is facing a 20% cut, goes on clearing up the detritus that we leave all over Bristol. If nothing is done we will still have dirty streets and we will have less places for people to read and borrow books. There are many ‘reasons’ that this rubbish is on our streets; not enough bins, bins not emptied enough, recycling not collected properly and blowing out of the boxes. The list is endless but these are all excuses not reasons. The time has come that we all pick up litter when we see it up and put it in the bin at home. Initially there will be another increase in the rubbish collected but if we have cleaner streets and say to companies giving us packaging and leaflets we don’t want it will eventually change. There will be less rubbish, less litter and we can make this happen.

I will be starting a campaign soon called #takeithomeyoutosser and it is going to be very simple. From crisp packets, to takeaway wrappers, to dog doings in little black bags that dog owners arrogantly think is okay to leave on a public path my message is going to be very simple. Just take it home you tosser. I have had enough of my council tax being wasted on litter and living in a city that is dirty, the streets strewn with rubbish and bags full of dog poo. We can all do something about it that does not involved a committee or money or anything other that each of us picking up the litter, taking it home and making not acceptable for anyone to litter anywhere.

Election Predictions

There will be an election, there will be a result, there will be a government and there will be a lot of coverage, an awful lot of coverage. Reporters will be standing outside doors and buildings talking about what is, isn’t or might be or not be going on inside. Or not. Old political faces who are not ‘in the room’ will be talking about what is going on ‘in the room’. All this, which could go on for weeks, will happen while we the voters wonder what was the point of our X marks the spot on Thursday 7th May. Please vote though, it matters. It really matters.

There will also be winners and losers, careers made and careers destroyed. From 10pm on Thursday 7th May until around 5pm on Friday 8th May it will be theatre and reality at its most brutal, without gallons of Kensington claret. Yet shouldn’t there have been something more to this whole General Election thing? It was briefly touched on during this ridiculously long and terminally dull campaign. The world beyond our shores.

Our world is in a parlous state and that world is part of our country whether we like it or not. We can no more shut the doors on our boarders and then ride around in a fantasy 1950’s England with baskets on the front of our bikes, doffing our hats to the vicar from the church we all go to on Sunday, than we can ignore what is actually happening in the world we all live in and on. And least we forget that the 50’s ‘Kath Kidston’ ‘I could leave me back door open’ ‘we was poor but we was ‘appy’ image was forged from two conflicts that cost us dearly in every way but required us to step up and be.

We can and we should influence our world today but this requires statesmen, stateswomen and statecraft. This requires real political will. It also requires our commitment to do better, to be better and to stop dwelling on the mistakes made in the past or use them as an excuse for our inaction to influence the future. Our duty, because of our history and our place in our world, is to do more and be more than just anxious bystanders claiming ‘its not my problem mate’ or that we ‘are not the worlds policeman’.

As a nation, as a people we are better than that and it’s about time our leaders, all of them, faced up to what is actually happening in and to our world. Our leaders, what ever combo is ultimately in government (NOT power), need to actively take part in our world to help sort it out. Why? Because I have four children who I want to grow up safe and happy.

Since the recession we have become insular and inward looking. Our national leaders have followed this. They have amplified this tune and, as a result, our politics have become the ideas of the niche. Political parties have sprung up like dandilions each with a ‘solution’ for a ‘thing’. There are no grand ideas, no proven track records, no statecraft of statesmanship just a lot of little parties dealing with ‘immigration’ or ‘equality’ or ‘pay’ or ‘rights’ but beyond their founding principles they fall apart once questioned and scrutinised.

Democracy is not easy. It’s not supposed to be. It is about the elected majority bringing the minority along with it and not leaving them behind while they are ‘in power’ to feel there is nothing in it for them. If any government uses that ‘in power’ phrase we should all be very scared. If the majority fails the minority then anger sets in with that minority and they do stupid things like hide in the shadows, graffiti cars and try to scare innocent people. They act like 13-year-old boys yet to discover masturbation.

The politics of the majority seems be about telling us what is wrong and who is to blame for it, usually the minority. That is an easy hit but it’s not so easy to actually do something about it. We have a generation of evidence for that. Politics must change and if there is a low turnout in this general election, say below 63%, that could finally be the tipping point toward that change.

In the coming months lets hope we can really consider our place in society and our place in the world. The coming months must also be about Governments first responsibility to all of us. To keep us safe, in everything that means.

One last thing. After the results and the pantomime, politicians please leave us alone.

It’s election time, there’s no reason to be afraid

It’s less than a month until the nation decides, until we get our chance to have our say. Excited? No, me neither.

The Fix Term Parliament Act has taken all the excitement and fun out of ‘the election’. We knew when this election was going to be, if we actually gave a stuff, years ago. So did the politicians and so did the media. All this nonsense about TV debates not happening and candidates not being ready or prepared is utter tosh. If any of them are not ready then, frankly, get off the stage preferable pursued by a bear. That would make great TV. Channel 5 would make a series out of it.

There was a time, not in a good ole days ‘Gorr blimey, ‘ave a banana, we use to leave all our windows and doors open’ way, when elections were called and you got three weeks of campaigning. Out would trot the political candidates wearing oversize rosettes like podgy gymkhana ponies asking for your vote. Then, after polling day, they left you alone again for another four years or so. Now Politicians seem to have it in their heads that we want to hear from them all the time. Politicians should be like the bank manager, the Doctor or the police. You never, ever want to hear from them because when you do it’s usually bad news.

The 2015 General Election has been going on since the party conference season last year, and look where we are in the polls? It’s neck and neck and not a cigarette paper (to be found behind a screen and soon to be in a plain packet because nanny knows best) between the two main parties in policy terms. At least some of the smaller parties have more radical or wacky, far out, sensible or stupid policies. Please delete or use the words you feel fits your politics.

Politicians have got to stop thinking we care about them and are actually interested in them. Politicians have a job to do and we have our life to lead. Our electoral contract should be as simple as this. I elect you as an MP or Councillor and then you go away and do your job. You don’t get in my way or tax me too much. You are fair to everyone, not just those who support your party and you keep me safe. And stop asking me what you should do as I elected you to do it, as I have my own life to lead.

A sensible, liberal democracy should allow us the right to vote freely and then to be left alone. If Politicians or political parties are going to muck about with our local schools, healthcare, energy bills or the tax I pay (and tax IS the price of civilisation) then it better be for the REAL benefit of my family, friends and me. If not then you’re out next time.

A few last points.

If you are a political party member or standing for election don’t think most of us give a stuff about your party’s ‘vision’ or ‘policies’ because we don’t. Have you ever read a manifesto? More people are members of the RSPB than are members of all the main political parties. We like birds more so maybe politicians should more like birds? Maybe, if you want to get elected, you should dress up as a chicken or a cock.

TV debates are for a presidential system not for our constituency based electoral system. You and I should be voting for the best person to represent us where we live, not a just a leader and a bunch of party lemmings to do their bidding.

Any politician who says they want ‘power’ or ‘when we are in power’ or ‘when we get into power’ must be denied that power at all costs. You are not voting anyone into power. You are voting for someone to represent you, your family, your friends and your neighbors. You are voting for someone to keep you and yours safe and well. Any election candidate who wants power is in the wrong country. You and your vote is the power and those you elect are your servants.

The General Election is all well and good and when you have your MP you will either desperately need their help (and I hope this never happens to you) or you will want to avoid them like a bad smell emanating from an old dog. Please remember the local elections too, as this matter more in your everyday life. Local Councils and your local councillor are more important than your MP.

Finally to that vital democratic cross you have. It’s yours to use. It is real power that you give in majority to your elected representative. Many have died for you to use your vote. Your vote is not free. Your vote comes with responsibility and reason. If you decide not to vote that is your absolute right in our democracy, but if you don’t vote then you can’t moan about the ‘bloody government or council’.

We may be asking the wrong questions

This could be the last time it write and publish a blog as British citizen. I am English but as I tap on the keyboard I am British too but after 18th September I could just be English, diminished in my identity and I have no say over it. Yet this is not the issue that drives the last week.

In the last week a Police and Crime Commissioner still refuses to resign despite a no confidence vote from the very body that holds him to account. South Yorkshire PCC Shaun Wright was charged with looking after children for five years at Rotherham Council, before being elected as Commissioner. Over fourteen hundred girls were abused when he was running the council department who were supposed to protect them. Wright claims he knew nothing about the abuse and South Yorkshire police are trying to explain why they DID nothing about it. There are now similar claims of police negligence and inaction in Manchester. Nothing else has happened.

Manchester is the city where this week a dog’s home was burnt down. The response? Over a million pounds was raised in 24 hours to help the dogs that survived. Do we care more about dogs, dead or not, than we do young girls who have been abused and raped? If those who gave money instead gave a home to the dogs wouldn’t that actually solve the problem? Yet this is not the issue that drives the last week.

Saturday night, as I closed my eyes to sleep, my phone pinged and the news that a third hostage had been ‘executed’ by Islamic State, now being called ISAL, the third name change in as many months. We can’t even get naming them right. The third victim is 44-year-old British Aid worker and father of two David Haines. Another British hostage was shown in the now familiar video as the probable next victim.

Those who are doing this hide behind their ‘religion’, a coward’s mask, the name of a Prophet and their warped version of ‘truth’ that is beyond any reasonable or intelligent understanding. The world and this country faces a real and present threat and what we need to hear are Muslim leaders, Imams, Islamic voices shouting from the rooftops ‘Not in my name’ ‘Not in my god’s name’ ‘Not in Mohammed’s name’. We all need to hear this now, loudly and clearly. ISAL, I S or whatever they want to call themselves need to hear this too.

This week we could all be diminished by a skewed nationalist ideal that has no real idea what a yes vote will actually mean. ‘Yes’ voters certainly won’t be more Scottish any more that I will be more English in seven days time. Yet there are bigger stakes to play for than this, real matters of identity and consequences beyond oil, shortbread and kilts. What is needed is a loud, clear, world wide Muslim voice condemning the actions of ISAL. This would be a good NO we all want to hear.

Rotherham proves we are all to blame.

Telford, Derby, Oxford, Rochdale and now Rotherham with revelations and courtcases of underage girls abused and raped by men. Shocking. Or is it?

In the last two years we have been faced by the realities of child abuse and our collective failures to recognise it, confront it or deal with it. We are all to blame for Savile, Hall, Harris and the young girls and boys who have been abused, raped and abandoned by society in Telford, Derby, Oxford, Rochdale and Rotherham. These are just the towns and cities we know about. There are others. So why are we all to blame? Simply we created the culture that made it impossible for the victims to come forward and be believed.

The scale of Rotherham exposes the failure of social services, the police, local government, central government, socialism, political correctness, a conservative elite, the media and so-called policy of ‘social mobility’. It would be simple to put all this down to race and a few ‘incompetent’ social workers and their managers. That would make us all feel better.

The media narrative implies that Asian men are to blame, that it’s their culture, it’s their fault. So arrest them, convict them, send them home ‘back to their own country’ will be the clarion call of the Right. If we do this and fire a few social workers, force more to quit, plaster the faces of those in charge on TV and in the papers, stick a microphone to their mouth and a camera in their face, ask ‘why’ and ‘how’ for a couple of days this will help too. Then lets hold an enquiry where questions will be asked. Then a report can be published complete with a commitment that this must never happen again. Reporters will be live outside the Town Hall. And NOTHING will change unless you will it to change.

First off let’s be clear about one very important issue. If you think Rotherham or any of the locations so far is just about race you are an idiot. None of the cases or those yet to come out are just about race. We don’t get off the hook that easy.

The story of child abuse in Rotherham and other towns is about those who are at the very base of our society. The abuse victims are those who have, yet again, be failed by those who claim they were there to protect them and look after them. The victims have been abused by those who felt they had the power to do it and get way with it. Those who did the abusing used all the power they could to claim power over their victims bodies and playing any race card was just a part of that.

So what of Social Services, the council and the police? Well, despite their ‘do good’ intentions and, in some cases election promises, they have all failed to do anything to protect the children in their care properly. When the victims of abuse come forward to try to tell those in authority what is being done to them, they were not believed. The culture created by government and political correctness meant and still means that thousands of underaged girls who were being raped knew they would not be believed. The perpetrators knew this too. This culture HAS to change as a priority. The victim’s allegation must trump the accused presumed innocence.

Rotherham is nothing special. It’s just another example of our collective failure to face up to and deal with the abuse of children. Rotherham has proved one thing though; the media’s obsessions with getting a scalp to make us all feel better. The whole council, the MP and entire police force could have all quit along with the PCC Shaun Wright and still over 1400 girls have been failed. The entire Rotherham elite could have been sacked and over 1400 girls have been abused. These girls will never have the life they should have had. So what if Shaun Wright quits? Over a one thousand girls have been raped in one council borough. This hardly seems a result for the victims that BBC and others were so keen to report. Those who were responsible need to be held to account and not allowed to slip away by being sacked or resigning.

The reality is that our political classes has and continues to appeal to the middle, telling it that everything is being done to protect and enhance the lives of those who are ‘less fortunate then you’, yet they have spectacularly failed the very people they claim they are championing. Child abuse proves this.

From Tony Blair to Rotherham’s former Labour MP Dennis MacShane to now EX-Labour Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright to every social worker and every council tax payer in the borough pf Rotherham, you are all to blame. You are all to blame as we are all to blame for Savile, Hall, Harris and strange ‘Uncle Fred’ who you wouldn’t leave your own children alone with but ‘what can you do?’. If we don’t actually report what we see and feel thus forcing those in authority to do something about it and hold them to account until they do, the abuse of children in care or in family homes will not stop. Rotherham is just another town and another failure in our collective inability to face and deal with child abuse. There are many more towns and cities like Rotherham.

Child abuse is too important to be left to the council, the government, the police or the media. It is down to you and me to stop it.

Child abuse is not about race, class, celebrity, family, politics, social services failures or the media congratulating it’s self for exposing it and reporting on it. Child abuse is about you and me protecting those who can’t protect themselves from those who want to do harm to them. Nothing is more important than protecting a young life from abuse. If you suspect anything you must report it and make sure they follow it up, no matter how trivial, no matter the consequences.

I will, and I have in the last month.

Fear; it’s a cover up and it’s wrapped up.

Be safe, feel safe. This is the mantra of Avon and Somerset Police, it’s part of the nine crime plans across the West of England and the Police and Crime Commissioner believes the phrase encapsulates all she is trying to achieve. The reality is that overall crime rates are falling by every measure and, despite less police officers being on the streets, you are safer now than you have ever been. Yes, certain crimes are on the rise, cyber crime seeing the biggest increase of all, but you are safer than you have been for many years. Yes you really are. You don’t feel it though do you? The fear of crime is significantly greater than the reality of crime.

There is a whole industry out there playing to your fears and hoping to make you feel safer. It preys on your fears, creates and magnifies your fears and uses the odd incident or accident to make you more fearful it could happen to you too. Nothing makes this more clear than the industry that makes covers for mobile phones. Every phone designed is made as a complete object. It’s not made to fail, to fall apart or not to withstand the odd accidental drop so why would you buy a cover for a phone? Fear. You buy the mobile phone cover fearful that if you don’t have one you might damage your phone. Do you honestly think that the brains at Apple or Samsung created their cutting edge technology, starting selling it and then thought ‘bugger, I wish we’d made a cover for it.’

Other examples of fear being turned into a business include wrapping your suitcase in cling wrap to protect it. Think about this. Shrink wrapping your suitcase; that’s putting a cover on a case, which is already a cover. If your suitcase needs to be wrapped in cling film buy a better case.

The cycle helmet is another product of fear. July this year saw all children who ride a bike aged under 14 on the Channel Island of Jersey without a helmet risk a £50 fine for their parents. The debate rages in the UK over the compulsory wearing of cycle helmets but I’ve yet to find any empirical evidence that they work. Maybe you can point me to it? I’ve heard of accidents that might have been different if a cycle helmet was worn but the key word there is ‘might’. There may be lots of reasons to wear a cycle helmet, feeling safer being one of them but there is little real evidence or research to prove you ARE safer wearing a cycle helmet. And where wearing cycle helmets has become compulsory, like Australia, rates of cycling have fallen. The reality seems to be that a bit of polystyrene perched on your head makes you feel safe with out a doubt, but will it make you be safe?

Some media and certainly some newspapers trade on your fears and who is to blame for it. The more fears they create the better and, as we get older, we become more fearful. My own recent experiences of cycling to work and riding water slides on holiday have proved this to me, until I found my inner ‘child’ again.

So the next time some tries to sell you a cover for a phone, wrap your case in cling film or make you wear a protective anything please, at the very least, question it and don’t be afraid to do so.

M.E again

When I met Naomi at her home last year she has been housebound since her teens. I have since researched her illness and spoken to others who live with M.E. I have interviewed those who are trying to raise the profile, the money and challenge for the possible treatments for this chronic condition. From all this a number of issues have become apparent to me about M.E.

The first is that this illness is hidden. The considered numbers of those living with ME in the UK are 4000 per million, making a total of around 250,000 with diagnosed M.E. In the U.K., from what I now understand of this illness, the diagnosis is, at best, less hit and mainly miss. M.E is mostly not a positive diagnosis but a diagnosis of exclusion, a “we don’t know what it is so it maybe M.E”. Sonya Chowdhury, who runs the Bristol based Charity Action For M.E, suggested to me in a recent interview on BBC Radio Bristol that M.E today is like cancer from a generation ago. M.E is a phrase, a headline with little story, known as one illness, one size fits all. Today, for cancer, this is not the case so maybe the future of M.E is positive diagnosis and targeted treatment for the potentially many types of M.E there could be. More personal evidence about the state of M.E diagnosis is that someone I know took ten years to get their diagnosis while another friend took just 10 months. I’d wager that many more are living with the symptoms of M.E and are battling not knowing why or what they have.

The second thing I have learned since meeting Naomi and sharing her story of living M.E is that the illness is a lot more common than I realised. It is hidden too. Six people I know well who have the illness. Six. Before meeting Naomi I had heard very little about the illness and I had bought into the “yuppie ‘flu” tag. All six family and friends I know have varying degrees of this chronic and very real condition. Why did I not know? It is because they were ashamed to talk about it, to tell anyone, to fess up to having M.E. They were ashamed of it for fear being judged as hypochondriac, sickly or malingering. They did not want to that one person in the office who is “always off sick”. You know they type? You, me, we are wrong.

The third thing is something I really don’t understand. Why does the media still portray this illness as not really real? I have seen and spoken to those who have M.E and heard ans see their realities of it. I can say that it is real to them, to their doctors, family and friends. It has real consequences and a reality all its own. The media “it’s not really real” attitude perhaps leads to the wider medical profession not taking M.E seriously. This may lead to a lack of general understanding, investment, treatment or even attempts to find cures. Maybe it’s simply because there are just aren’t enough people dying from M.E? It only takes away your life force, without warning and little hope of it coming back, no matter how hard you will it. A recent Lancet report and paper suggests that those with diagnosed M.E are six times more likely to take their own lives than you and me. That can’t be acceptable.

So what should be done? One; take the illness seriously and give it a voice. Two; call on those who can make a change to make a change. Three; the next time you hear about M.E take it seriously. Please take M.E seriously.

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